Saturday, March 31, 2018

An Easter Solemn Assembly 

Today, March 31, 2018, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints participated in a sacred solemn assembly where we sustained a new prophet and president of the Church. Since the restoration of the Gospel in 1830, each of the prophets, from Joseph Smith to President Russell M. Nelson, has been sustained during a solemn assembly.  

During a solemn assembly in the early days, the members of the church would sit by priesthood quorum and each quorum would stand and vote as a quorum and then the general membership would be called upon to sustain the new prophet. President Gordon B. Hinckley, speaking at the solemn assembly when Ezra Taft Benson was sustained as the prophet and president of the church, said that the meeting was: 

“a tremendously significant and sacred occasion for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world.” The format for sustaining officers at (this)conference was abbreviated from that of past solemn assemblies because, explained President Hinckley, “in these present circumstances, it is considered unfeasible to seat by quorums those assembled in the Tabernacle and the many other halls. We shall, however, vote by quorums and groups.” (I Have a Question). 

The first solemn assembly that I had the privilege of participating in was when Ezra Taft Benson was sustained as the prophet and president of the Chruch in April 1986 and I have participated in each solemn assembly since that one. It is a sacred privilege to stand and raise my hand to the square and sustain each new prophet. Today as I stood the spirit bore witness to me that Russell M. Nelson is the Lord's mouthpiece today.  

What makes this solemn assembly even more special is that it is on Easter weekend when celebrate the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is the head of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and President Nelson was called by him to lead His Church. "The calling of an Apostle is to be a special witness of the name of Jesus Christ in all the world, particularly of His divinity and of His bodily resurrection from the dead." (Apostle) 

When the Apostles met to replace Judas after Christ's death and resurrection, one of the requirements that they required was the person needed to be a witness of Christ's ministry and resurrection (Acts 1:20-21). Those called to be modern apostles are also witnesses of Christ to all the world. Just like prophets of old, our modern prophets are called to be the Lord's mouthpiece to the world and they are the watchmen on the tower that will warn us of the dangers we will face.  

The scriptures teach that "surely the Lord God will do nothing but he revealeth his secrets unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7) and the Lord promises that all his words will be fulfilled "whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants it is the same". (D&C 1:38) 

It is comforting to know that the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He loved his children anciently as much as he loves us today. He spoke to prophets anciently and he speaks to them today, even President Russell M. Nelson. President Nelson is a witness for Christ today as much as Moses, Elijah, and Peter. If we will listen to his counsel and teachings in conference this weekend we will know what we need to do to be protected from the evils that surround us and what we need to do to keep our families safe. 

As we participate in the solemn assembly and celebrate Easter this weekend we can be assured that the Lord lives today and that he has called prophets to guide us in these latter days. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

March Madness

It is that time of year when even the least basketball fan is caught up in the tradition and excitement of the NCAA Basketball tournament.  I love this tournament over all the others because even the smaller schools have an opportunity to go for the championship. Many times the “Cinderella” team beats the “Goliath” team and the odds to win their game and continue their quest for perfection. This year UMBC (The University of Maryland, Baltimore County – I had to look that one up) a #16 team beat the #1 Team Virginia; the first time ever since the NCAA tournament began seeding teams. It was interesting to listen to the ESPN commentators before the UMBC vs Virginia game. They almost joked about UMBC. They said there was no chance of them beating Virginia. As the game progressed however their tone changed and UMBC ended up beating Virginia by 20 points. Loyola Chicago, a #11 seeded team, has reached the final four for the first time. That is what I love about this tournament.

Many of the games are not decided until the very end and the student athletes give everything they have. The emotions win or lose are there for all to see. This year we saw teams that were supposed to go all the way including Virginia, Xavier, Perdu, North Carolina, and Cincinnati defeated by teams that should not have won. The old saying “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” was on faces of all the players, coaches and fans. It is emotionally draining to work so hard and be so close but come up short.

Are the teams that lose considered losers? Even though it may seem like it to them at the time, character is forged by the times we fail as much as in our victories. President Worthen, President of Brigham Young University, spoke of the difference in failing and being a failure. He said:

“It is a truth that is hard to deny, yet difficult to accept. It is this: We will all fail. More than once. Every day.
“I know that may sound startling and not the most optimistic of messages, so let me be quick to add that this does not mean that you or I are failures or that the quest for perfection is futile. There is a difference between failing, even repeatedly, and being a failure, as I hope to explain.
“Failing is an essential part of the mortal phase of our quest for perfection. We don’t often think of it that way, but that is only because we tend to focus too much on the word perfection and not enough on the word quest when we read the mission statement. Failure is an inevitable part of the quest. In our quest for perfection, how we respond when we fail will ultimately determine how well we will succeed.” (“Successfully Failing: Pursuing Our Quest for Perfection”, Kevin J. Worthen, BYU Devotional, January, 06, 2015).

Failure is a part of this life and how we deal with it will determine our ultimate success. Unfortunately in a tournament like the NCAA basketball tournament, when you loose you are out and the sting of that loss is a difficult lesson. There will be many sports commentators and fans that will put the blame on the coach or the failure of one shot or something, but it rarely comes down to one play. There are many mistakes and missed shots that put teams in a situation where that one bad call from a referee or missed foul shot costs them the game. The important thing is to learn from our mistakes and improve. The test for Virginia, Xavier, and the others that lost will be how they rise up and come back next year and start over.

Our lives are similar to the wins and losses in sport. We will succeed at some things but fail at other times. How we learn from our mistakes (or sins) and improve (or repent) will determine our overall happiness and standing before God. The Apostle Paul compared our lives to a race when he said:

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

The difference between a sporting event and our lives is in sports there is only one eventual winner but in life we all have the opportunity for eternal life. None of us will make it through this life without failing or sinning. But through the atonement of Jesus Christ we can all end up with that perfect record. If we repent when we sin and strive to keep God’s commandments we can be cleansed and Jesus Christ has promised that because of his suffering for us it will be as if we never sinned at all; we will all be perfect and win the prize of eternal life.

President Worthen reminded the students at BYU of the blessing of the atonement and the effect it can have on us:

“…failing is a critical component of our eternal progress—our quest for perfection. And because of the Atonement we can—if we respond to failures in the right way—be blessed with a new kind of learning that allows our failures to become part of the perfecting process. As Elder Bruce C. Hafen has explained, the beauty of the gospel is that “because of the Atonement, we can learn from our mistakes without being condemned by them.”14 What a wonderful blessing that absolutely marvelous and indispensable portion of the plan of salvation provides to each of us, if we will but take advantage of it.” (“Successfully Failing: Pursuing Our Quest for Perfection”, Kevin J. Worthen, BYU Devotional, January, 06, 2015).

Since 1939 there has only been five teams to have a perfect season and win the national championship. UCLA did it four times and Kentucky did it in 1954. This life is meant to be one of learning; through our successes and our failures. Heavenly Father knows we cannot live a perfect life and he has provided our Savior Jesus Christ to help us overcome our imperfections and help us have the courage to get up when we fail. Our greatest lessons can be learned when we fail and get up and try again.

When life seems to be difficult or impossible we need to remember that we have many who are cheering for us to succeed. Even if those around us are prophesying our defeat don’t listen to them. UMBC and Loyola Chicago did not pay attention to all those that said they had no chance of winning and they won in spite of all the negative talk.

Our lives sometimes may seem to be one long month of march madness, but if we will rise up when we stumble, repent when we sin, seek forgiveness when we fail in the end we will hear the Lord speak the words we all hope for: “Well done thou good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of thy Lord”. (Matthew 25:21) and we will enjoy a perfect season, eternal life with our families.

Your comments and questions are welcome.